Mother's Day/Remembrances of My Mother

05/20/2012 11:52

Sunday, May 13, 2012

APPRECIATION/Remembrances of My Mother

By Cherno Baba Jallow

Attachment Parenting: African Mother and Her Baby

In July of 2003, it seemed as if all was lost and out of the normal for me. My mother’s death at age 59 had left me devastated to the point of total ennui. For weeks, introspection vanished from the contours of my imagination. My soul froze; listlessness replaced vitality towards self, work and friends. Before you conclude, it wasn’t mental incapacity or anything resembling its lesser ungainly variations. It was just the feeling of emptiness – the kind one is forced to endure upon hearing the news of the death of a parent, and in my case, through a voicemail message.

Excuse the cliché: there is nothing permanent in life. The invisible hand of creation designed that way. Every living thing shall come to an end – one day. That was true of Abou Khan, the famous Dankunku hunter, and Mamari Kulubali the 18 century founder of the Segu Bambara kingdom. It was true also of the deserted, disease-ridden and faith-unshakable Prophet Ayoub (Job). My mother’s death was simply following the logical – well not so logical – sequences of life and death.

Mariama Jallow was born in Basse in 1944, the year The Gambia’s colonial governor Hilary Rudolph Robert Blood received his Knighthood, and Nazi Germany overran Hungary. Mom was born into a family of unbridled religiosity. Her father (I was named after him) taught the Holy Quran to a lot of Basserians, some of whom would later become public functionaries. Her older brother, the late Naphew Jallow, was one of the ‘Nkrumah Boys’ – those who benefitted from the Ghanaian president’s financial aid to African students for college enrollment in Ghana. Uncle studied veterinary science in Kumasi, and following graduation, returned to The Gambia and began the noble task of rendering humanity to livestock in the hinterlands.

Basse Childhood: Mom in 1962

For every woman, the attainment of (wanted) motherhood comes with bliss and a certain degree of self-actualization. Giving birth to a baby, especially the first born, will make any woman radiant with hope and give poise in her productive capacity. And having gone through the pangs of pregnancy and labor, there is not a better source of strength for a woman to draw from as she endeavors to steel herself against the vagaries of motherhood and parenthood.

But for Mom, this was a belated reckoning. Her first marriage had bore her no children. So when she had me and my siblings in her second, new-found motherhood must have been greatly enthralling. You could tell from her conspicuous exuberance, like a doting mother towards her only child. You could tell from her fears and protective demeanor, like a lioness around her young cubs. Once, a friend of mine in one of those playful, childhood moments tripped me up in the backyard and Mom came rushing and yelling: “You know you could hurt him like that,” she said angrily. She picked me up and started dusting me off and rubbing my elbows and ankles as if I were in pain.

In 1987, a snake-bite I suffered at the Basse rice fields would send Mom into panic. It seemed death was imminent. It was a snake bite! During my ordeal, Mom had long, sleepless nights hoping against uncertainty. When I would wake up from sleep, I would realize her sitting by me, her worries decipherable from the stagnancy of her stares. But Mom was strong-willed. She was stoical, and her attitude towards the inevitability of fate was typical of many a Gambian wife, caught between the vicissitudes of marriage life and the impediments of traditional conformity.

Mom lived a life: of hospitality, of humanity, of graciousness. Her warmth was deep and reassuring. She loved to cook aplenty and share with others. She was just too eager to have you eat. Also, she was too eager to make friends and comfort them – proximity and familiarity were irrelevant to her obligations to other people. She wasn’t the one to talk about other people, especially behind their backs. Bitterness was never part of her psyche. She was hardly angry. She knew anger was human, alright. But anger, especially when fuelled by grudges, is injurious to the ennoblement of the human spirit. Love and laughter are the sustenance of life, and what better way to live your life – as temporal as it is – than to be friendly and open-hearted to your fellow people? Mom’s friendliness had an elastic capacity and her awareness of and pride in, her humble origins, helped humanize her sensibilities towards other people.

I would lament to her how I had been unable to do “big” things for her – things like sending her on a pilgrimage to Mecca, build her a beautiful house, provide her with the other accoutrements of life – normal wishes any Gambian child would have for their parents. No matter. "Help your father," Mom would say. She was never into big things; luxury discomforted her. She preferred small things done or given in unpretentious ways, like reaching out to neighbors and sharing in the joys and sorrows of the day.

Two weeks before her passing, Mom told me she wanted to buy some sugar to distribute within the neighborhood – she had done such acts of generosity time and again. Her altruism was touching. She loved and cared for her neighborhood and community. As her illness took a sudden turn for the worst, Mom, on July 28, 2003, summoned family members and neighbors. On her sick bed, she preached unity and love. She asked for forgiveness from the crowd assembled around her. She declared, “I have forgiven you, too.” Moments later, it was an eerie silence and then her soul departed.

Mom taught me to be friendly, respectful and humble. She passed onto me the virtues of kindness and tolerance; to believe in myself and to be content with whatever the creator has ordained for me. Her life story gives a lilt to my comportment. And to my confidence in humankind’s still inexhaustible reservoir of magnanimity, and thus, in its ability to inspire hope and lessen misery. Let Paul Masefield, the late British poet laureate, deliver the eulogy:

In the dark womb where I began

My mother’s life made me a man

              Through all the moments of human birth

 Her beauty fed my common earth

I cannot see, nor breathe, nor stir

       But through the death of some of her.


Editor's Note: The original version of this article first appeared in the Independent, Banjul, August 17-19, 2004.

Cherno, a member of the Basse Association, Inc., lives in Southfield, Michigan, USA. He can be reached at



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